Focus on the UK’s energy mix

Jason Ford

News editor

Briefing starts the week by asking if wind power – on and offshore – is a viable way of generating energy or a green fantasy lining companies’ pockets with subsidies?

It’s a valid question and in Birmingham this Thursday John Loughhead, executive director of the UK Energy Research Centre, will deliver the Hunter Memorial Lecture based around the subject of wind energy.

The lecture will explore the technical and commercial challenges of wind power during the current financial climate and political consequences if the government strategy fails.

Said strategy aims to deliver 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 and the lecture will consider the technical issues associated with the increasing penetration of intermittent sources onto the electrical transmission system, the commercial implications for a reduction of ‘truly despatchable power’, and the cost of building and installing the equipment itself.

A quick glance at DECC’s website sees a positively bullish outlook for wind, with predictions that wind turbines can generate electricity for 20 to 25 years.

In the third quarter of 2010, wind power is said to have produced 3.5 per cent of the electricity used in Britain and this is expected to rise to around 20 per cent by 2020, with about a third of all electricity coming from renewable sources.

Wind is also good news for the wider economy. A survey published in January 2011 by Renewable UK concluded that around 10,800 full-time employees were working on renewables at the start of 2010. Fifty-six per cent of these are associated with large-scale onshore wind, 29 per cent in offshore wind, 7-8 per cent in small-scale wind.

It would appear that the political appetite for renewables is backed up by electorates around the world and nuclear could suffer as a consequence.

A survey published last week says that public opposition to nuclear power has grown since 2005.

Conducted by GlobeScan for the BBC, the survey of 23,231 adults in 23 countries shows that many people believe renewable and not nuclear energy can meet future requirements.

Most of those polled in countries with operational nuclear plants are opposed to building new reactors. The proportion opposing the building of new nuclear power stations has grown in Germany from 73 per cent to 90 per cent, but also increased significantly in Mexico from 51 per cent to 82 per cent, in Japan from 76 per cent to 84 per cent, and in France from 66 per cent to 83 per cent.

Click here to read more.

With this in mind, Chatham House continues its debate series with the question: ’Is Nuclear a Sustainable Energy Option?’ given that Japan’s Fukushima crisis has highlighted not only the potential environmental damage associated with nuclear power but its financial risks too.

More gloomy portents from the Treasury and news that the chancellor’s Autumn Statement looks certain to deliver a reassessment of the UK’s growth forecast to one per cent. Due to be delivered tomorrow, it is widely expected that George Osborne  will announce a reduction in interest rates on small business loans and incentives for private investment in roads, railways and schools.

Over at IMechE tomorrow the internal combustion engine comes under scrutiny in an event entitled Internal Combustion Engines: Performance, Fuel Economy and Emissions.

The event’s blurb states that challenges facing internal combustion engine manufacturers are greater than ever, therefore how can engineers: reduce CO2 emissions and the dependence on oil-derivate fossil fuels? How will they meet the future emission limits? What is the vision of the engine and fuels industries?

Finally, Friday sees The Engineer team head to the Royal Society to celebrate The Engineer Awards 2011. Good luck to all of the short-listed entrants across nine categories.